Grower Spotlight: Patrick Johnson (Tunica, Mississippi)

October 30, 2007

Being a fresh college graduate is one of the scariest and thrilling times of one’s lifetime. All of a sudden it is up to you to make your own decisions. But what if your decision entailed entering a risky industry?

Patrick Johnson faced this challenging decision when he graduated from the University of Mississippi where he majored in biology. When he first entered college, Patrick didn’t think he would go back to the farm. But as he matured, farming had much more appeal than he thought.

As he so perfectly states, “Farming gets into your blood.”

At age 33, Patrick farms with his father, a 35-year veteran of the industry. Farming being the family business, Patrick’s uncle and two cousins have a farm of their own as well. But the transition for eager young farmers isn’t normally this easy.

“The start-up costs to farm are high. It helps to have family already in farming because it takes so much investment in land and in equipment,” Patrick explained.

Adding to the difficulty for young farmers right now is the lack of a long-term farm policy.

The House and Senate have both passed a five-year farm bill, but differences between those bills have not yet been reconciled. Worse yet, some lawmakers are looking to scrap the new, popular legislation in favor of a short term extension of the 2002 farm bill-an unpopular plan in rural America.

“In farming it is crucial to plan ahead, and that is difficult to do with so much uncertainty about farm policy. Every day that goes by without a long-term farm safety net in place makes planning that much more difficult,” Patrick said of the slow process.

Patrick admits that he doesn’t know much about the intricacies of politics, but he does know that the farm bill process has come a long way and shouldn’t be abandoned in favor of a temporary one or two-year extension.

“When the price of cotton is low, the farm bill helps you cope with the financial downs,” he explained. “There’s a lot of support in my community for the bills passed by the House of Representatives and the Senate. Let’s hope lawmakers stop playing politics with the farm bill soon and finalize a strong package that can provide some certainty for the foreseeable future.”

Despite agriculture being a risky business, Patrick encourages young people from farming communities to live out their dreams and stay in agriculture.

“We feed and clothe the world,” he said. “You can’t find a more worthwhile job than that.”